HARVEY SAHOTA AND CREW ARE MAKING NOISE
by ASJAD NAZIR
BANDS dominated the live scene during the golden age of bhangra and helped lay a foundation for the British Asian music Industry.
The number of bands delivering the live experience has dwindled over time and left a huge void in modern music.
But emerging bands like newly-formed act The Live Crew are keeping the soul of British Asian music alive with stunning performances that are delighting their growing legion of fans.
The eight-piece bhangra-fusion band from east London formed in mid-2017 aiming to bring something new by fusing Punjabi vocals with music from different genres such as reggae, urban, pop and dance to create interesting new sounds.
Recently, they won Best Group at the UK Bhangra Awards 2017. Eastern Eye caught up with lead vocalist and founder Harvey Sahota to find out more…
You have gone from being a solo artist to leading a band. How do you look back on your time in music?
It’s been a tremendous journey with huge learning curves at every turn, with positives and negatives. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the nicest and most talented people in the industry. I’ve learned a huge amount and amassed knowledge that I now feel I can bring to the forefront with my music.
What led you towards forming The Live Crew?
I have always enjoyed bhangra bands performing at events, including weddings, since I was a kid. There was something about instruments being played together to form a unified sound that gripped me. Growing up, I watched bands like Alaap, Sahotas and DCS for their unique musicianship and sound. I always wanted to be a live musician as I can play most of the instruments, so it is only natural now that as a vocalist I take the lead and have my own band.
Tell us about the band?
The eight-piece band consists of drums, bass, lead guitar, two keyboardists, dholak/tabla player, dhol player and myself on vocals. The band is made up of musicians from varied backgrounds, religions and cultures, so makes for an interesting mix, especially with musical influences. The varied cultural backgrounds add to the unique sound and style of the band, which was formed with one directive in mind; to give something different to the Asian live scene. Something I truly believe we have.
How would you describe your sound?
Ultimately I would describe the sound of the band as a fusion of different genres. Although we are classed as a bhangra band due to singing predominantly in Punjabi, the music is a blend of reggae, pop, dance, rock and cinematic themes with Asian beats fused together. We have completely given new flavours to some of the songs we have performed as covers, which is how I believe true covers should be. We certainly don’t sound like a normal bhangra band! In some ways it’s east meets west, but that would be a great over-simplification and wouldn’t do it justice.
Tell us about your recent single Sajna Veh Sajna?
It is a cover of a classic Punjabi song sung by Gurdas Maan and based on a reggae groove but with strong Asian sounds. Lyrically the song is about true friendship and the bond that comes with that. A very different song lyrically in the sense that it’s not about falling in love, drinking or dancing! The song has been influenced by the sound of The Live Crew because it was conceived and created by us in the rehearsal studio. It is something that has not been seen in the bhangra scene since the early 90s.
Who are you hoping connects to it?
It will definitely connect with lovers of the original as it gives a new look to the song. Fans of reggae music will also appreciate the Asian spin we have put on the single. It’s an evergreen song with The Live Crew stamp, so what’s not to like? It’s been one of my favourite all-time songs and I’m blessed to have been able to give my presentation of it. I am dedicating it to my late father who passed away a few years ago. It was one of his favourites too.
How does being in a band compare to being a solo artist?
It’s two different worlds totally. Being a solo artist you are essentially alone out there on stage. Singing with the band unlocks the creativity, gives you an added spontaneity and an opportunity to do something different. Off the stage as a solo artist you can’t bounce ideas around, but with eight musicians who are specialists in their field, the ideas are limitless. Being in a band can be directly compared to being in a family. It’s an amazing feeling especially when you bond with the right type of people who exist on the same page as you.
How does the band get around creative differences?
Generally it’s a blessing that we all seem to agree consistently with ideas on direction. (Laughs) Occasionally we hit a stumbling block with keyboard players disagreeing with guitarists on chord arrangements. But generally by the end of the session it’s resolved and normally achieved by a mix of the two. Luckily as the creative lead for the band I generally get to have final say, but I always listen to everyone’s ideas. The great thing about music is you can actually hear the difference between two ideas/variations, and nine times out of ten the band all come to a happy decision.
How much does performing live mean to you?
Performing live is what it’s all about. The buzz and electricity I feel when I’m singing and the band is playing behind is a feeling I can’t describe. It’s definitely magical. But it takes hours of hard work and rehearsals to be able to pull off a performance that roughly lasts five minutes per song. That is the nature of the beast. Hats off to all live musicians and singers out there.
What has been the band’s most memorable performance?
I guess it has to be performing live to a packed-out dance floor at the UK Bhangra Awards and winning Best Group of 2017. A crazy night and one I shall never forget. Truly a magical night of nights!
Does it sadden you there are less bands in British Asian music now?
For a few years, there were no live bands on the scene apart from minor glimpses of the old 80s/90s bands. That was a sad time for live Asian music. Then we saw the emergence of the super-groups consisting of musicians from all the great bands forming excellent backing bands for various singers. It was inevitable we would then see bands with one permanent singer starting to emerge. The Live Crew is part of this new phase. Alongside bands such as Brotherhood, we hope to spearhead the live scene. Other new bands are also on the horizon, so it is a very exciting time for live Asian music.
Who from the legendary British Asian bands was your favourite?
The Sahotas are my all-time favourite band and responsible for me doing music. They have influenced me and now the band. They were different and innovative, something I think we are too in the way we produce and sound. Alaap and DCS were also favourites due to the sheer energy of their live sets. They broke so many boundaries and took bhangra to the corners of the world through their tours, something I hope The Live Crew will be doing soon.
As a band, which classic cover versions do you all enjoy performing most?
We enjoy performing all the songs we do. As a band, we make creative decisions that if you aren’t feeling this song as a musician then we aren’t going to perform it. Everybody in the band has different favourites due to a variety of reasons. Sometimes Ricky the drummer will like a certain song because it lets him loose or Shawn the bassist might like a song because it is bass-led. I have my favourites too and enjoy singing The Sahotas’ amazing Hass Hogia, which always gets a great response! I also enjoy performing Sajana Veh Sajana as I love what The Live Crew have done to it creatively.
Why do you love music?
Music gives me a feeling that nothing else can touch. I never get bored doing it and never have enough time with it. Minutes turn to hours in a click of a metronome. Music is about feelings and it affects how I feel. After rehearsals, there is a buzz in the air with all the musicians. After coming off the stage, I’m on a natural high that lasts for hours. Music is there to be loved and appreciated as it transcends all cultures and ages. It the most unifying power in the world, so you just have to love it. Music doesn’t give you that choice.
Why should we pick up the new single?
For several reasons. It’s a song that has been covered countless times, but I believe we have given it a new colour and a fresh perspective. Also it’s free and available to everyone.